Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Don Knowler

The commercialisation of the Tasmanian wilderness …

*Pic: Hillary Younger’s photograph Lovers Pattern will be on display at the exhibition that opens at Lot 19 Gallery in Castlemaine, 2nd December at 2pm. Hillary has captured the stunning Lovers Falls, a remote rainforest-clad waterfall accessible by canoe on the Pieman River, Tasmania … surrounded by 1500 year-old Huon pines. ( Exhibition details, TT here )

Author Don Knowler voiced his concern about the commercialisation of the Tasmanian wilderness when he was invited to address the annual general meeting of the Tasmanian National Parks Association on November 26. Here is his speech

First published December 2

The battle to protect and conserve Tasmania’s pristine wild places was brought home to me within days of arriving in the state from Britain 20 years ago.

I was staying with my mother-in-law in Howrah at the time and wandered down to the Shoreline shopping centre where I came across an exhibition being mounted by the Tasmanian Conservation Trust.

Peter McGlone, who was manning the trust’s stall, was quite possibly the first person I had met in Tasmania outside of my wife’s family.

I was intrigued because he was holding a sprig of gorse, explaining that it was a weed in Tasmania and he had recently been engaged in digging it up from Tasmanian soil.

There was something ironic in the conversation because just weeks previously I had been engaged in planting gorse in Britain, a vital species vanishing from the British countryside.

Irony, I was to discover, travels with wildlife conservation, not just in Tasmania but world-wide.

Gorse in Britain is a signature species of plant for the most threatened environment in the British Isles. It grows in the sandy soils forming a belt across southern England, areas that can be considered wilderness because they have never been cultivated and never built on, until now.

There is even a nature reserve at Arne, in the south-west county of Dorset dedicated to gorse where, as a volunteer, I planted the stuff just before coming to Australia.

These sandy soils were dumped by glaciers at the end of the ice age and for thousands of years were classified as common land. Animals allowed to roam on them never did any damage because they were merely domestic forms of animals, like wild boar, which had gone before. And these areas retained their unique flora and fauna. The sandy heaths of southern England might have been unfit for cultivation but the land has proven to be ideal for housing development close to London and south-west towns and cities. I grew up on a vast housing estate on the fringe of London constructed on such soils. Luckily some of the common land remained, in the shape of Horsell Common near the town of Woking where H G Wells set his War of the Worlds novel, and discovered their worth when I first started to develop an interest in wildlife while still at primary school. In fact, these areas might well have inspired that interest.

Although they were not classed as national parks as such, I saw these stunted forests as truly wild places and as I grew older I went in search of areas with that designation, mainly in the north of England.
And I soon learned that wilderness and national parks could represent different concepts.

I actually worked on a farm in the Peak District national park, but believed at the time these were wild places even though the park mainly composed ancient farmland dissected by drystone walls. Only the tops of the moors, along the Pennine Way forming the spine of Britain between England and Scotland could be classed as truly wild.

When my travels took me to East and Southern Africa I continued to go in search of what I considered at the time as wilderness. I ignored the roads and railway lines dissecting national parks where elephants roamed free.

I lived in America for a time and didn’t explore some truly wild places there, to my regret, so I can’t comment on these. I spent my time in New York writing a book about Central Park, which in its own sense can be termed a wild place!

And then I came to Tasmania, and realised what wild and wilderness really meant, discovering only recently that there are very strict guidelines set down by international conservation bodies defining wilderness. And it doesn’t include roads or railways or even huts.

In recent years I have had the chance to look again at “wild” places in southern Africa and was shocked and appalled by the Kruger Park and the Victoria Falls National Park, in the light of my Tasmanian experience.

The Kruger Park has a more extensive network of roads from the time I remember it 40 years ago, and franchise fast-food outlets in its camps. And the Victoria Falls is ringed by a high fence, guaranteeing that visitors pay a $50 American dollar entrance fee to view it. The Victoria Falls serves to give the Zimbabwean Government precious foreign currency.

My disenchantment with the places I once loved in Africa has coincided with a push by the Tasmanian Government to open our own wild areas to business.

I’m not really qualified to comment on specific projects – beyond the proposed cable car up kunanyi/Mount Wellington – but at the same time I have become increasingly worried about this assault on wild places in general.

I might have tolerated roads once, and crossed the Wankie park in the old Rhodesia by train (seeing elephants and lions from the carriage windows) but in recent years I have become a wilderness tragic.

I’m like the smoker who gives up cigarettes. There’s no one worse amid tobacco fumes as a reformed smoker and amid the scent of eucalypt oil in the gum forests, a reformed wilderness tourist.

And the word irony keeps emerging. Am I the only person who sees the notion that we ruin the very thing we consider beautiful and precious by “opening it up for business” so greater numbers of people can see it, and worse, exploit it.

We are told trails that at the moment present a challenge to cross them in pristine areas of the Tasmanian wilderness, and add to the spirt of adventure, need huts so more and more people can enjoy them.

We are told that wild areas, wilderness and otherwise should be opened up for mass tourism. These area can’t just lie there, they must turn a profit.

But so often these apparently harmless and non-intrusive schemes to allow more people to see, feel and hear wild places turn out to be the thin edge of the wedge.

I was once a great supporter of the bike and mountain bike lobby, seeing value, for instance, in turning disused railway lines into bike tracks.

This has been successfully achieved in Britain and I’ve walked many of these level trails through some spectacular country inaccessible by any other means.

When I first learned of the north-south bike track across kunanyi/Mt Wellington, I walked it and had an enjoyable experience, walking but at the same time showing the cyclists respect because it was after all their trail.

A gentle bike ride, however, has suddenly become something else. Now the bikers are demanding high-speech, zig-zag tracks down mountainsides, a bike ride has become an adventure sport.

I’m not opposed to living life at the edge, however. But plans for such a track cut into kunanyi/Mt Wellington concerns me. I gather there are plans for a downhill/gravity track from Big Bend on the mountain down to Junction Cabin.

I see that in recent years mountain biking has been listed on the Wellington Cable Car Company’s website as one of the pursuits the cable car will make possible.

But why do these things like bike tracks have to be in high-value natural areas. Around Hobart I can think of many hilly areas already modified by farming or even industrial activity, like rubbish tips. Perhaps we could have descending, zig-zag bike trails threading their way through the forests of alien gorse which litter the state.

Again, like five-star huts for hikers, I see cyclists as the thin end of the wedge. Allow one bike and you have a bike track, and a cable car to take bikers to it.

As I say in my book, The Shy Mountain, the beauty of kunanyi/ Mount Wellington is it brings the south-west wilderness right to the very doorstep of a state capital city.

A cable car would reverse the process. It would take the city – with its glass, and concrete and steel and its commercialism – to the mountain.

The government mantra of being open for business, opening up our wild areas also raises the question of access by air, and noise pollution. I accept there must be air routes open to the far south, even for emergencies. I’ve travelled to Melaleuca by Par-Avion and know the orange-bellied parrot recovery program could not be possible without this air link.

But one or two planes a day is something different to frequent flights by helicopter, dropping off tourists here and there. I’ve written in the past of the movement in the United States to declare a portion of at least one national park a human-noise-free zone.

Gordon Hempton has established what he describes as “one square inch of silence” in the Olympia national park in Washington state. He describes the site in the Hoh Rainforest as the most pristine, untouched and ecologically diverse area of the United States and has even persuaded some airlines to route their high-flying aircraft away from the area so the people down on the ground don’t even see their vapour trails.

Is this man eccentric to the point of being a little mad? I certainly don’t think so. Part of my latest Victoria Falls experience was having the day ruined by three helicopters at once hovering over the falls, one afternoon drowning out the call of the beautiful Heuglin’s robin, a bird I had searched for without success in all the years I had spent in Africa. And here it was in a patch of rainforest at the falls edge, and I couldn’t hear its song, one of the most beautiful in Africa.

We hear the phrase loving places to death, and the Victoria Falls is a perfect example of what dangers lie in allowing more and more of what I call “trippers” access to nature’s masterpieces, to allow them to have an experience beyond just walking and seeing and hearing.

Closer to home we have a place I love, not wilderness as such, just the route of a road.

I am intimately familiar with The Neck on Bruny Island, having watched penguins and short-tailed shearwaters there on many a spring and summer night. The paving of the road was a concern because I thought the penguins I had seen at night on its dirt surface would end up as roadkill. I’m told tunnels under the new road have alleviated that problem, but I think we have all been blindside by the decision to site a car park at The Neck which ruins the view from the lookout, looking south.

Now that is ironic. And as I said earlier, in my lifetime irony seems to have travelled with the trashing of the environment.

Take that housing estate I told you about, Sheerwater in Surrey, where I grew up.

It was designed to provide a home for us Londoners displaced by the bombing during the blitz in the Second World War. About 6000 Cockneys were planted down on what had been considered wilderness, even if it was only about 35 kilometres from London.

Soon after the birches and the pines, and the gorse, were cleared, and construction of more than 1,500 homes started, the planners and developers suddenly realised the Cockney sparras being transplanted to the countryside from Bermondsey and Rotherhithe and the Old Kent Road would need a focal point, a pub.

One was soon built on what had been the pristine forest – and it was named The Birch and Pines.

*Donald Knowler is a journo legend. He writes the On The Wing column in the Saturday Mercury.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Geoff Mosley

    December 11, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    National parks and wilderness areas have nothing whatsoever to do with money-making and profit. In fact they are the very opposite – places we value for their recreational, educational and scientific values and which are of benefit to the whole community.

  2. Christine Simons

    December 11, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Even though I had a grandfather and mother upset by land clearing, I did not understand about wilderness until I started visiting remote places. I found everywhere that people have farmed, mined or cut down trees at some time.

    Arriving on Campbell Island, in sub-Antarctic New Zealand, there were buttercups by the wharf. A family had farmed there in the 19th Century. The same in Port Davey, the Victorian Alps and Wilson’s Promontory.

    I used to look at the scenery in the U.K.and think it was beautiful. Now I see it is all man created. There is very little landscape anywhere in the world that has not been changed by humans. Why can’t we put some places aside and value them for what they are, relatively natural, and not think somehow that they have no value except as a way of earning money?

  3. O'Brien

    December 3, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    “It would be great to see more conservationists join us in that vision.” Who is “us”? I’ve spent over twenty working years keeping “us” greed-heads and their “visions” outside our National Parks where they belong…


    Now these bastards (I believe) have stacked our conservation agencies with bent bastards just champing at the bit to give it away to their mates.


  4. O'Brien

    December 3, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    Here’s some idea of what proponents of “sensible development” have in store for us…


    In another time and place the same greed-heads would be selling snake oil cures, used cars or shares in Gold Coast time share real estate. It just so happens they’re in tassie here and now, flogging off remnant bush for a few quid under the guise of “tourism”. None of these greed-heads have qualifications in conservation science which is the only reason these places remain out of their greedy clutches thus far. Our conservation agencies DPIPWE/NPWS have been totally compromised by stooges pushing their filthy greedy profit making agendas. Our politicians are complicit in the theft of our National Parks.

    Proponents gibber scripted nonsense about “Tasmania’s world-class, sensitive approach to nature tourism in protected areas” well Tassie apparently has world-class forestry as well and we all know what a raging success that has been…

  5. Second Opinion

    December 3, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    When I go to the mountain, I go prepared.
    The mountain dictates it’s terms.
    I accept and appreciate the terms of that encounter.

    You, Luke, expect the mountain to come to you.
    There is endeavour, , and there is arrogance.

  6. spikey

    December 3, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    with all due respect luke
    speaking as a conservationist
    tasmanias industries tend towards
    worlds best practice

    the cable car is a great example
    some charlatan pretended to be a bunch or peeps
    didn’t get away with it
    so got the minister for tourism to buy in
    with no conflict of interest

    if you’d like the support of conservationists
    including myself
    identify exactly who you mean by ‘the industries vision’
    because ‘the industry’ by your definition may just be Bold, Federal Group and some other tasinc clowns

  7. Luke Martin

    December 3, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    I thought this was an article about appropriate tourism in wilderness areas, but then the example cited is kunanyi/Mt Wellington?

    One of the most diverse landscapes areas in Tasmania that has been used by Tasmanians for agriculture, forestry, telecommunications and recreation for nearly two centuries. Spectacular, precious, sensitive, beloved reserve, absolutely, but ‘wilderness’ it is definitely not.

    The other example cited is mountain biking. Something the expansion of is very restrained within world heritage areas or National Parks, but, ironically, is now flourishing in areas formally the exclusive domain of commercial forestry activities, such as around Maydena and the Blue Tier.

    I think, Don, you need to accustom yourself with Tasmania’s world-class, sensitive approach to nature tourism in protected areas. Some of the fears you have from other countries about fast food outlets within National Parks and choppers regularly buzzing overhead are so out of the bounds of aspiration of either the industry or the current management plans.

    Tasmania’s challenge and opportunity is to set the global standard for bespoke, premium and truly sustainable nature tourism. That’s the industry’s vision. It would be great to see more conservationists join us in that vision.

  8. Mark Poynter

    December 3, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    “And the word irony keeps emerging. Am I the only person who sees the notion that we ruin the very thing we consider beautiful and precious by “opening it up for business” ……. We are told that wild areas, wilderness and otherwise should be opened up for mass tourism. These area can’t just lie there, they must turn a profit.”

    Irony indeed!

    It is not so much “we are being told” as ‘we (as in environmental activists and their supporters such as most who follow TT) have been telling the community and politicians for years that eco-tourism is the way to replace forestry — that once the timber industry is removed the wild forests will be full of tourists and there will be far more employment than ever existed before.’

    Now that the politicians want to act on it, those who have advocated it suddenly don’t want a bar of it, and so, far from replacing forestry they are only proving how deceitful they were in advocating eco-tourism as the way forward in the first place.

    So … far from wanting a truly viable and economically significant forest tourism sector, it can be safely assumed that those who’ve campaigned for it to replace forestry really only ever meant there to be a few free walking tracks that will only ever be used by the select few who are fit enough do so during the 4-5 months of the year when it is not cold, wet and inhospitable.

    It isn’t rocket science to appreciate that this will return almost nothing to the economy. There would be nothing inherently wrong with that if it hadn’t been incessantly and dishonestly spruiked as a like-for-like economic replacement for forestry, when all the while it was just BS.

  9. Bob Hawkins

    December 2, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Our wild South-West? It is one of only a tiny few remaining almost truly wilderness areas on the planet outside of Antarctica. It can only remain “wilderness” if we don’t make inroads into it. Perhaps carefully managed walking trails (all vehicles banned) would be acceptable. Better still, why can’t we settle for simply knowing it’s there, and being able to view its breathtaking magnificence via images shot from the air?

  10. Philip Lowe

    December 1, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    re Gorse.here in the UK you see varieties of Lantana on sale.
    It makes me smile brings back memories of clearing bloody Lantana.Thick gloves and heavy loppers needed.Let’s face it,if you offered a developer an opportunity to screw up the garden of Eden,they’d take it;and a Real Estate Agent would flog it for them.

  11. Chris

    December 1, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    When I see Asian Tourists enjoying our landscape I can forgive their parking in the middle of the road at a junction in order to video a few sheep in a dry paddock, while their car doors remained open and no lookout kept for traffic.
    Better I suppose than stopping on the causeway to do the same, or standing in the middle of the road.
    How many accidents have occurred in the last few years, I know of two, one almost tragic!

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